By Rosanne Bowman
LIMA — When Dean Brown ran into his college friend, the Rev. Tim Burden, head pastor of Trinity Family Life Center in Pickerington, five years ago and learned Burden was involved in missions to Cuba, Brown’s interest was piqued.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” he said. “I guess because for so long, you weren’t allowed to go. That’s the rebel in me.”
At the time, Brown was getting ready to go on a mission trip to Ecuador in South America, and it took him a while to decide that he wanted to join Burden on a trip to Cuba.
“Journalists can go to Cuba now,” Brown said. “I thought about going as a photo journalist.”
But Brown decided to join Burden’s group, through Cuba Connection Ministry. This ministry was started by Willie Santiago, a former pastor and church planter. Its main goal is to form relationships with Cuban Christians so believers in this country and there can work together to share the Gospel.
The day after Thanksgiving, Brown and a team of five others left for Havana, Cuba. That group included three pastors: the Rev. Mike Bowie from Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Gahanna; the Rev. Bill Lyle from Peace United Methodist Church in Pickerington; and Burden from Trinity Family Life Center in Pickerington. It also included two other people: Mike Gloeckner, a church member from Trinity Family Life Center; and Andrea McDonough, a church member from Peace United Methodist Church.
The group flew out of Fort Lauderdale and arrived in Havana on Nov. 23 for a weeklong visit. When they landed, Brown confessed to feeling nervous as the group had to wait more an hour to gain entry into the country.
“They had our visas in their hands,” said Brown. “I’m unsure why we had to wait so long, but it was disconcerting.”
Once in Cuba, the group traveled from Havana to Cardenas, Jovellanos and Varadero and visited various churches.
“We started out by touring Havana,” Brown said. “That first Sunday, we went to three different churches. We had time to meet with the pastors there many times, along with most of their wives and church leaders.”
The time was spent talking, asking questions and finding out what each country’s churches were doing.
Brown and his group also spent one day working on a farm. “We worked on a Cuba Connection farm picking coffee beans,” he said. “We did get to do some things with a group of special needs kids. We did what you would call more traditional missionary work. We passed out food, medicine, toys and candy to them.”
One of the most surprising things about the trip for Brown was how vibrant the church is in Cuba.
“The church in Cuba is alive and well,” he said. “It has been isolated. They were not allowed to build churches, but they were allowed to build houses with living rooms big enough for a church gathering.”
While Brown did not see the serious persecution in Cuba that happened in years past, there are still difficulties to be faced by believers there
“I talked with one pastor — he’s called the revolutionary pastor — and he was in prison doing hard labor for a year just because he was a pastor,” Brown said. “While that kind of serious persecution is probably done, it’s still hard. One woman came back from Havana because her visa was denied. She wanted to see her grandkids in Texas. She’ll probably never get to see them.”
Brown also found the actual church services very different.
“There is an hour of praise and worship with skits, poetry and drama before the pastor even thinks of getting up to speak,” he said. “Maybe it is because of the salsa-type beat, but there were a lot of the people on their feet and dancing. Even outside — you shake every man’s hand and kiss every woman’s cheek.”
For Brown, one of the biggest highlights was when they arrived at the first church.
“When we left my church — Forest Park United Methodist Church — we had a commissioning service where they laid hands on us and sent us to Cuba,” he said. “When we arrived (in Cuba), the people at that church put their hands on us and prayed. It was the most moving part — that strangers would do that for us.”
While Brown is unsure of the next time he will go back to Cuba, he said that this was not just a mission trip that he will forget.
“Right now, we are collecting over-the-counter medications to send,” he said. “It’s not just one week and we leave. It’s about forming a connection with the church in Cuba.”
For details on Cuba Connection Ministry go to http://totalfusionministries.org/category/tags/cuba-connection. Trinity Family Life Center is planning another trip in the spring. Call 614-837-8356.
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